Czech Olympian, coach and kind soul
We still hear him, and perhaps we always will, every time we dive into the pool and swim that first lap. His voice is now a permanent melody in our hearts. Ondrej Bures, 31, a former NCAA Division II and Masters distance champion, was killed in a tragic accident in Los Angeles on Tuesday, June 22, 1999. Bures was working as a coach for the Southern California Aquatics Masters team (SCAQ). He was run over by a pickup truck at the intersection of Santa Monica and Sepulveda Boulevard as he was walking to early morning practice. He died instantly.
Clay Evans, SCAQ's head coach, commented: "This is a terrible tragedy. There's just no way to understand events like these."
Ondrej was a SCAQ coach for only three years. He was such a dominating presence—not with forcefulness but with his kindness and genuineness. Having a person with Ondrej's qualities as part of one's daily life, is a rare, treasured thing. Even for such a tragically truncated moment of time, those who knew him were better people for having known him.
Ondrej was born in Prague in the Czech Republic where his parents, Zdemek and Alena, and sister Jitka still reside. He swam on the Czech National Team and represented his country in the 200-meter fly and 400-meter IM at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. In 1987 he placed sixth in the European Championships and swam in the World Championships several times. He then moved to the United States and enrolled at Cal State University, Bakersfield and was a member of the CSUB swim team from 1990-93, earning All-American honors all four years and leading the Roadrunners to half of their eight-straight NCAA team titles. As a junior in 1992, he was named NCAA Division II Swimmer of the Year after winning individual titles in the 1650-yard freestyle, 200 butterfly, and 400 individual medley. In all, he won 10 individual NCAA championships and set several NCAA records, two of which still stand. Ondrej held more individual event records than any swimmer in CSUB history. Derek Robinson, a former teammate and longtime friend put it simply: "I think that when he came in, he performed at such a high level that he raised the team's expectations." The same thing can be said for his coaching days with SCAQ. He raised the bar for everyone.
Ondrej not only brought to the team his good-natured, positive spirit. As an extra bonus, he brought Nicole, his equally good-natured wife of two years and a treasured member of the SCAQ family. Ondrej met Nicole at a Masters meet in Arizona and fell "head over heels in love with her" (his words to friend and fellow SCAQ coach, Will Douglass). They were married in the summer of 1997 and were, by everyone's perception, the perfect couple. Three weeks before his tragic death, Ondrej and Nicole had closed on their first home. There are no words to express the tragedy that Nicole has suffered and we all share. The people of SCAQ and all who knew Ondrej are devastated by this loss. May the happy memories of Ondrej Bures bring comfort during this time of profound grief. Now is the time to cherish the precious moments spent together.
John Doggett made the following comment some time ago about Ondrej:
One day recently I was talking with Coach Ondrej at the end of one of his morning workouts at Santa Monica college. Several of us were complaining about the temperature of the water, saying that it was too warm for a good workout. And then we proceeded to complain about the water temperature at Westwood also. I'm sure we were going to complain about the water temperature in some other pool, but before we could, Ondrej just looked at us and replied with his characteristic common sense and positive attitude, "The water temperature is always just right for a workout. If it is a little warm, then work on your form. Take it a little easy and get the strokes right. If the water is just right, then give it all you have and get a good aerobic workout. If the water is too cold, then look on it as practice for ocean races." I'm sure this is the same attitude that Ondrej adopted for everything in life. The memory of his positiveness and cheerfulness is a model for all of us.